The internationally renowned design firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril (SOM) just published the findings of their “Timber Tower Research Project,” which proposes constructing skyscrapers with timber in order to reduce their overall carbon footprint. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency buildings account for 36 percent of total energy use, and tall structures in urban jungles built with metal and reinforced concrete have a particularly high carbon footprint. SOM’s design has the potential to slash the carbon footprint of these tall towers by up to 75%.

SOM, Skidwell, Owings & Merrill, timber tower research project, urban design, green design, sustainable design, eco-design, carbon footprint of buildings,

SOM applied their structural research system to an existing building designed by them in 1965. The Dewitt-Chestnut Apartment complex in Chicago is 395 ft tall and has 42 stories. The firm’s timber tower research revealed that reinforcing mass timber towers with concrete only at certain stress points, such as the joints, would result in a perfectly sound structure that requires zero steel, and much less concrete than a comparable building.

“SOM believes that the proposed system is technically feasible from the standpoint of structural engineering, architecture, interior layouts, and building services,” according to a recent statement. They add however that “Additional research and physical testing is necessary to verify the performance of the structural system.”

This system also improves cost and constructability and provisions have been made for fire protection. However, the firm already anticipates resistance to the design, and therefore urges urban planners, architects and others in the design industry to work with code officials and municipalities to pave the way for more efficient tower construction.